MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (CN) - Federal regulators improperly gave their blessing to a residential subdivision near Surfside Beach, S.C. without so much as a site visit, environmentalists. And they did so even though the developers, Deertrack Golf, said they planned to fill or alter "virtually every square inch" of water and wetlands on the 84.6 acre property, nearby property owners say.
The South Carolina Environmental Law Project claims says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Charleston Office and the Environmental Protection Agency wrongly determined the waters and wetlands on the property do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.
The Law Project represents the Deerfield Plantation Phase II-B Property Owners Association, a nonprofit representing property owners in a subdivision next to the site. They say many of the wetlands at issue have a direct surface connection to the Atlantic Ocean, a navigable water, and therefore require federal protection.
They say that by failing to assert jurisdiction over the waters and wetlands, the federal agencies deprived the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control of the opportunity to certify whether the proposed activity will be consistent with state water quality laws and regulations.
The association seeks declaratory judgment that the corps' determination is unlawful and invalid, and that the waters and wetlands the developer wants to impact are "waters of the United States" requiring Clean Water Act protection.
They also want an injunction preventing Deertrack Golf from dumping dredged or fill material without a permit that includes water quality certification.
Deertrack Golf's proposal involves redeveloping a site that for more than 25 years has served as the Deerfield South Golf Course in Surfside Beach, a tourism Mecca on the Atlantic Coast, a 10 minute drive from downtown Myrtle Beach.
The developer plans to preserve nine holes of the old 18-hole golf course and to build 278 single-family homes on the rest of the property.
Deerfield Plantation Phase II-B was developed in a common scheme with the original golf course. Homes in the subdivision are surrounded by and directly border the course and waters and wetlands surrounding it.
According to the lawsuit, "members of the (association) use and enjoy the waters, wetlands, birds and other natural resources ... which will be degraded and/or destroyed if the project is allowed to proceed as planned. ...
"Destroying the Deertrack waters and wetlands would eliminate suitable habitat for birds, reptiles, fish, and other wildlife and likely result in the discharge of sediment and other pollutants associated with storm water, including nutrients, thereby degrading waters downstream."
Plaintiffs say the Corps of Engineers "entirely failed to consider, or even mention," the hydrologic connectivity of the waters and wetlands on the site to the Atlantic Ocean and significant inland lakes.
And they say there is no evidence in the record to indicate that Corps considered readily available information, including the surface hydrologic connectivity of the Deertrack Golf site's waters and wetlands to navigable waters, "which is plainly visible to anyone who visits the property."
The lawsuit was filed in Florence, S.C., Federal Court.
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